Diarrhea that leads to dehydration (the loss of too much fluid from the body) and low levels of salt and potassium (important minerals needed by the body) can be life threatening. Call your health care team if you feel dizzy or light headed, have dark yellow urine or are not urinating, or have a fever of 100.5 °F (38 °C) or higher.
Ways to Manage Diarrhea
You may be advised to take steps to prevent complications from diarrhea:
- Drink plenty of fluid each day. Most people need to drink 8 to 12 cups of fluid each day. Ask your doctor or nurse how much fluid you should drink each day. For severe diarrhea, only clear liquids or IV (intravenous) fluids may be advised for a short period.
- Eat small meals that are easy on your stomach. Eat six to eight small meals throughout the day, instead of three large meals. Foods high in potassium and sodium (minerals you lose when you have diarrhea) are good food choices, for most people. Limit or avoid foods and drinks that can make your diarrhea worse.
- Check before taking medicine. Check with your doctor or nurse before taking medicine for diarrhea. Your doctor will prescribe the correct medicine for you.
- Keep your anal area clean and dry. Try using warm water and wipes to stay clean. It may help to take warm, shallow baths. These are called sitz baths.
TCH’s Gastrointestinal Complications PDQ® summary discusses GI problems common in cancer patients. For more information, see the section on diarrhea in the patient or health professional version.
Talking With Your Health Care Team about Diarrhea
Prepare for your visit by making a list of questions to ask. Consider adding these questions to your list:
- What is causing the diarrhea?
- What symptoms should I call you about?
- How much liquid should I drink each day?
- Can I speak to a registered dietitian to learn more about foods and drinks that are best for me?
- What medicine or other steps can I take to prevent diarrhea and to decrease rectal pain?